Tag Archives: war

Women in the Draft – Yes

Pearl River     The draft was a central issue in the opposition to the Vietnam War.  It touched all young men from eighteen to twenty-six, and the families that loved them.  It was a terribly unifying horror that was shared throughout the country, forcing life changing, and often life and death decisions at a very, very early age that would determine your future, if you were lucky enough to have one.  There was no choice to register, just as there is no choice to register for young men today, but once registered you might be on your way to Vietnam, Canada, or jail or any space in between that you could find.  You might be able to avoid the draft, but you could not avoid the decision.

Though draft was universal for young men, that did not mean it was one-size-fits-all and equitable.  It was class and race-biased with a vengeance.  During that period, when going to college was not as ubiquitous as it is now fifty years later, if you were a student, you could get a 2-S deferment, as a special middle class your-life-is-more-important-than-mine card.  If you knew someone at the local draft board, you were rolling as well, if you ran into trouble on the grades.  I did time as a draft counselor and in draft resistance during that period in both New Orleans and western Massachusetts.  I stopped when I felt like I was running a college service center.  Dropping out of school to organize, I went through draft physicals in Springfield, Massachusetts and New Orleans.  This was a working-class congregational meeting with the preponderance of draftees were people of color.

Anti-war protests were key, but the draft was the trump card in making opposition to the war grow and prevail.  Working offshore on oil platforms in the summer is shift work. I was on 14 and 7.  Company guys were on 7 and 7.  Coworkers were from Florida, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Alabama, and of course Texas.  If the money was good, the drive in and out was no big thing.  You worked twelve hour shifts and were stuck out on the water.  You talked, and it was surprising in 1967 when I was a teenager to hear the roustabouts and tool pushers state plainly that they would not let their kids go to Vietnam.

Look at our endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  You want to end a war, institute a compulsory service draft.  You want to end it even faster, given the powers that be, draft women, too.

Not that women can’t fight.  Some 17% of the US military is now composed of women on the front line, as pilots, and any other job that they are able to muster.  They are no longer restricted from combat roles.  As this number grows, it will give some lawmakers pause.  It’s one thing for many of them to volunteer, but as their percentage increases, these old schoolers who want to control their bodies in every other way, are not going to be happy seeing them come back home to their districts in body bags.

A national commission is reportedly recommending that young women be required to register for the draft at eighteen, just as young men do.  I’m all for it.  It virtually guarantees that a compulsory draft will never be used again.


There’s No Duck-and-Cover with Automated Warfare

Kansas City      I can still remember my third grade teacher walking us through the duck-and-cover exercise and announcing as we prepared to march to the corner single file that she would be standing on the asphalt covered playground where she intended to mark an X, because she wanted no part of surviving a nuclear holocaust.  Being raised in the Sputnik era in the heat of the Cold War, what could possibly scare me?  The answer is a blood-curdling, hair-raising article in Scientific American about our slim chances of surviving or at this point even stopping the pell-mell rush of a number of countries towards automatic, algorithm-driven warfare.

The piece was written Noel Sharkey, a professor emeritus at the University of Sheffield in England.   Sharkey is also the founder and chair of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control and one of the co-founders of a nonprofit called the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots.  In short, he’s not neutral on this issue, thank goodness!

Automatic weapons systems (AWSs) are not simply drones, which are scary enough even though nominally under the control of joystick jockeys here and abroad.  He actually advocates maintaining a human touch on any and all weapons both at the trigger and, more importantly, as a last gasp flesh-and-blood safety against unstoppable disaster.  He’s worried not about Star Wars cloned robot weapons, but about computer controlled tanks, planes, submarines, and ships that have a mind of their own in the deep binary of computer code and algorithms programmed to find their targets, engage equally mindless “enemies,” who may be other unmanned tanks, planes, submarines, and ships caught in the same endless kill and destroy loop.

It sounds like science fiction, until you realize that the United States is already developing unmanned transoceanic ships with fighting power that are accompanied by what Sharkey refers to as a flotilla of unmanned submarines that also have fire power.  They even have names, Sea Hunter for the ship, and DASH (Distributed Agile Submarine Hunting) for the subs.  Of course, the USA is not alone.  Russia doing the same with unmanned tanks designed to station along their border to stop invasions, like a weaponized Trump border all.  China, Iran, and other countries are all involved in developing similar weapons.

AWSs is the mostly deadly horror story of what might be wrought by artificial intelligence and machine learning, even as all of the experts concede computer glitches happen and software fails, even as the claim that they are preparing fixes for that.  I’m not sure what might stop hacking, since there seems to be no stopping that in normal life, much less on a battlefield.

Sharkey tells a story of how badly this can go by citing an algorithmic faceoff between two bookseller websites, profnath on one side and bordeebook on the other in a fight in 2011 on the Amazon website over an out-of-print book.  It was usually offered for $50, but “every time bordeebook increased its price, so did profnath.”  “Within a week brodeebook was selling the book for $23,698,655.93 plus $3.99 shipping before anyone notice.”  His point was hard to miss.  Similarly programmed automatic warfare instruments designed to act and react to expected battlefield or war scenarios could also careen into a totally destructive abyss.  The difference is that it wouldn’t take a week before the impacts were known, though it might take longer to count the bodies and forever to repair the damage.

Thirty nations have called for a complete ban of fully autonomous weapons according to Sharkey.  Most other countries want at least a guarantee of human intervention in the decisions to attack or not.  “Progress is being blocked, however, by a small handful of nations led by the U.S. Russia, Israel, and Australia.”

Tell me this doesn’t frighten you.  Literally to death!